In 2003, Camp HOPE was started in San Diego for kids that had faced domestic violence. Ten years later, the free sleep-away camp, associated with community Family Justice Centers, expanded throughout the state. This year, Camp HOPE comes to Washington and 11 other states. Because of Family Support Center’s Family Justice Center, the local non-profit organization had the opportunity start Camp HOPE here in late August.
“The goal of Camp HOPE is to provide children and teens who have been impacted by domestic violence with an opportunity to participate in a week filled with activities that build hope and increase resiliency,” said Family Support Center of South Sound executive director, Trish Gregory.
“Camp is built around the idea of ‘challenge by choice,’” continued Gregory. “Campers are given opportunities to challenge themselves to try new things, and are praised and affirmed for who they are and who they’re becoming. Camp HOPE is proven to increase the hope of children who attend, which is key to mitigating the negative impacts domestic violence and trauma has on youth.”
During Camp HOPE, kids will sleep in open-air cabins, hike, swim, explore and end each day with a campfire. The entire experience is free. Community members have been working to pull together the funds to keep the overall cost to Family Support Center as low as possible.
One fundraising idea stemmed from Anne Larsen, a long-time community volunteer and employee of the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. “My kids love getting letters in the mail. I’m also often guilty of driving around handmade written notes for weeks in my purse before getting them in the mailbox. How fun would it be to get a homemade card with sweet kid handwriting, in the mail,” said Larsen when describing the origins of HOPE Notes, cards designed by kids that can be mailed anywhere. “My dream was to have kids directly involved in helping kids.”
“Anne is thoughtful and creative and really works to engage her community in things like Camp HOPE,” said Gregory who was instantly behind the idea. “I’m not sure if we should call it a fundraiser or a ‘hoperaiser’ as HOPE Notes definitely does both.”
Larsen, who knows that “a good idea needs an audience,” tossed the HOPE Notes concept out to some friends. Kids came to a planning meeting with designs and voted on their favorite pictures. With designs and a plan, the team of moms and kids are into production mode. Once a HOPE Notes order is placed online, kids write the message in the card and prepare the cards for mailing.
Sam Warjone, a seventh grader at Griffin School, designed one of the cards. “I think camp experiences are very enlightening, especially for kids who have gone through difficult times,” she said when asked about why she is participating in HOPE Notes. “One thing that is great about Camp HOPE is all these kids have had similar challenges, which allows them to understand and help other kids get through tough times.”
“This fundraiser provides an opportunity to do so much more than just raise money, which we greatly appreciate,” said Gregory. “It puts smiles on the faces of everyone involved – the pretty amazing kids who designed the cards, those who are lucky enough to receive a card, and of course the kids that will have the opportunity to participate in Camp HOPE as a result of the funds raised.”
All of the costs associated with producing and mailing HOPE Notes has been donated. Larsen stresses that each dollar spent on a HOPE Note is directly donated to Family Support Center and earmarked for Camp HOPE.
In addition to the money raised through HOPE Notes, Gregory says the Family Support Center has some pending grant applications and is continuing to seek financial support from businesses and caring individuals. Donations of physical items are also helpful. Sunblock, sleeping bags, water shoes, snacks, battery powered lanterns, swimsuits, and beach towels are all appreciated. New items can be mailed or donated during regular business hours at Family Support Center’s main office in downtown Olympia at 201 Capitol Way North. In addition, Camp HOPE is currently looking for volunteer camp counselors.
“If someone in our community has another idea for how to support camp, let us know,” said Gregory. “We are always open to fun fundraising ideas, and we’re happy to collaborate. We will gladly come wave signs and drink lemonade if someone opens a lemonade stand, hang out and fill our sweet tooth cravings at a bake sale or participate in whatever fun exciting opportunity that comes up.”
“I don’t like to feel helpless about a situation. When I see all the kids and families in Thurston County impacted by domestic violence, it can at times be overwhelming,” said Larsen. “It’s agencies like Family Support Center that give me hope. I believe every child should have fun summer memories.”
Gregory said Family Support Center truly appreciates the community’s response to Camp HOPE. “We are so inspired by the positivity, excitement and financial contributions that have come in,” she said. “Working together, we can and will make a positive impact on the lives of some pretty great kids by helping them believe that they can have a future that is better than the past.”
“I can’t stop domestic violence from happening, but I can be a part of building resilience and support for kids in my community. And, that makes me feel good,” said Larsen.
To send a HOPE Note to someone you care about, and support Camp HOPE along the way, click here. HOPE Notes are mailed weekly and you can also purchase a box of blank cards to send at your convenience. To learn more about Camp HOPE and Family Support Center, visit the Camp HOPE website.